The Unbiased Eye

A scientist's commentary on events and culture

The Wrong Text in the Wrong Place

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Article first published as The Wrong Text in the Wrong Place on Technorati.

Anyone who’s ever spoken in front of a group of people knows how annoying those smart phones are.

People in the audience couldn’t possibly be paying attention to you when they’re staring into the little blue glow in their hands. When they can’t or won’t talk, they text, and it takes so long to tap out the shortest message.

The audience, meanwhile, is emotionally attached to their devices. An adjunct college professor I know reported that she caused a mini-revolt when she banned them in her classroom. It had to be put down with great difficulty.

The effect is no less at state legislatures and lesser public councils that run our governments. Vanity is certainly a big part the political personality. When a politician speaks, he feels you should listen. But the issue has a serious side. Many people believe that text-messaging allows lobbyists to directly, but silently, take part in public decision making.

Last week, Todd Hunter, a Republican from Corpus Christi, Texas, proposed a bill that would ban email, text-messaging, instant messaging or internet posting from public meetings, the Statesman reported.

Hunter said it’s rude to text while people are talking to lawmakers. He was talking about listening to committee testimony, but the principle certainly applies to the lawmakers’ debating. “You need to be focused on those people,” Hunter told the newspaper.

More importantly, Hunter said: “I also don’t think you should be communicating in a public setting with private interests, telling you how to vote, telling you how to think, telling you how to speak. …”

His argument brought back memories of a time long ago when I covered a state legislature. Every time, the issue was complicated, there was heavy traffic to and from the floor of the assembly, where lobbyists were not allowed, to the hallways, where lobbyists were free to roam. In the chambers, the discussion is public, open for all to hear. In the hallways, the conferences are private, out of earshot. Smart phones have made these conversation so much more convenient for both parties.

Hunter did not return my call to find out more about his thinking.

But he’s not alone. In the last couple years, statewide proposals have been raised elsewhere.

In California, the new assembly speaker, John Pérez, sought to impose a rule on the members to ban texting. Pérez also said he was concerned about messages from lobbyists during debates on bills. Some were skeptical, and Peter Schneer, of the First Amendment Coalition, was skeptical. He called the rule “a stunt.”

In Florida, an advocacy group, the First Amendment Foundation, proposed a similar ban in 2009, but little progress has been reported. Very few cities in Florida have adopted the recommendations, said Barbara Petersen, the foundation’s president told the AP last year.


Written by theunbiasedeye

March 27, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Posted in Trends

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